Below is the full transcript of John McDougall’s TED talk: The Food We Were Born To Eat at TEDxFremont.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The food we were born to eat by John McDougall at TEDxFremont
Starch. Yeah. It’s starch — rice, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes. It’s starch that has healed thousands of my patients. Like for example, a young lady from the Bay Area had deforming rheumatoid arthritis, to the point where she couldn’t catch her mom. And Juliea Baker decided at 17 years old, she was going to change her diet. She was going to give up the cheese and the meat and the oil, and switch to a diet based upon rice, corn and potatoes. And it took about seven days before she started getting better.
Or, from Sacramento, Robert Cross, he used to work in the attorney general’s office. He had terrible chest pains, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, overweight. He went to his doctor for a solution. Quickly ended up in front of the cardiologist, who recommended what? A heart surgery. He said, “No. I’ve got a better idea”. And he switched to a starch-based diet. He lost 60 pounds, dropped his cholesterol from 300 to 150, and cleaned out his arteries.
Or Deb Tasic, from Chicago, had had terrible multiple sclerosis. In fact, she fell down, stayed down for a month, couldn’t get up. Her doctor told her she’d be in a wheelchair in 5 years, and likely bedridden or dead in 10. She said, “I’m not going to do that!” So what she did is, she switched to starch. Yeah, Starch.
I’m Dr. John MacDougall. I’ve been in this business for 44 years. And I’m the luckiest doctor in the world because my patients get well. It started out — I have to tell you, it started out by a bit of an accident. I was in Michigan, and decided to go to Hawaii for my internship, back in 1972. I stayed in Oahu for a year, practiced just general internal medicine or internship type of program. And then after a year, I fell in love with Hawaii and I didn’t want to leave.
So, I took a job on the Big Island as a plantation doctor. And there I worked as a general doctor for 3 years. I caught babies, I pronounced people dead, I did brain surgery in middle of the night. But I’ve learned everything that I know today during those three years from my patients.
First thing I learned is that I wasn’t a very good doctor. I thought I was going to make all these miraculous cures. I mean, I watched Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby. I knew what a real doctor did. And I went into this general practice on the Big Island of Hawaii, and I started taking care of these 5000 sugar plantation patients. And I gave them the best pills I could find — sent them off to the best surgeons in Honolulu. And they wouldn’t get well. They just stayed fat and sick. Initially, I thought it was because I was a bad doctor. I realized my limitations as a physician during those three years. I was humbled.
The second thing that I learned from my patients, and it was a unique setting on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the sugar plantation, is I learned how to eat because I was taking care of 5,000 people who ate differently. I was taking care of first, second, third and fourth generation of Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans.
Now, my first generation, they learned about how to eat when they’re little kids in their native land: the Philippines, Japan, China, Korea. They learned a diet of rice and vegetables. And then, they had the fortune of moving to the Big Island, to start new families, a new life, but with them they took their original diet. And they continued to eat rice and vegetables.
The kids, who were influenced a little bit by the western diet, they started to change. And by the time you got to the grandkids, you’re looking at people who ate the traditional western diet. Now, realize these are people of the same genetics, same kind of work for over 100 years on the sugar plantation. Yet, before my eyes as a doctor, what I saw is – I saw people living on rice and vegetables, no dairy, just a little bit of meat at most — trim, healthy, hardy people. No MS, no arthritis, no diabetes, no heart disease in that first generation living on those traditional diets.
And then I watched the second generation get a little fatter and sicker as they abandoned starch. And then the third generation, which feared starch — rice, corn, potatoes — and took on meat and dairy in their diet, and oils. They get fat and sick just like every other American.
Well, after three years, I had to leave as a general practitioner. I went back to Oahu to become a board-certified internist. And I spent the next two years studying in the scientific library, in the Medical Library, next to Queen’s Medical Centre, to see whether anybody else had made this observation that people who live on starch — rice, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes — are thin, healthy, hardy, young-looking, not just in the world today, but throughout history. And when they switch to a well-balanced diet, the rich American diet, with lots of protein, calcium and other of these wonderful nutrients, do they get fat and sick? What I found out was that scientists over the previous 100 years had made this observation. In fact, it goes further back than that.
That was important, because that told me right there and then, that getting older didn’t mean getting fat and sick. It didn’t have to be that way. But as I read in the science, I discovered something that was really profound, and I’m sure it’s going to be easy for you to understand. When you stop doing things that make people sick, they get well. And so, if I had figured out that eating a well-balanced diet, lots of meat and dairy made people sick, then the only next clue I needed was the idea that I could be a miracle doctor. I could fulfill what I wanted to do as a physician, which is to help other people by applying this very simple principle. And that is, to feed people a diet for human beings.
You know, there is a diet for people. I know you might be surprised considering the variety that everybody eats. But there is a diet for human beings. And each and every one of you ought to be able to answer that question for yourself, for your spouses, for your children, for your friends. You should be able to have that answer. When somebody says, what do human beings eat? I mean after all you know what a cat eats, right? You know cats are carnivores. And horses, they have a diet, and parrots have a diet. You never take and feed your parrot meat or your cat nuts and seeds. So every animal must have a diet.
What is the diet for human beings? Well, history will tell us what that is. When you look back through history, you can go back 2.5 million years, and you see that the bulk of human beings have lived on starch-based diets. We have evidence from 44,000 years ago that said that the Neanderthals lived on starches. And from 30,000 years ago, we have population studies in Europe that talk about people living on starch-based diets. I mean, that’s pre-agriculture, so they say. That’s pre-civilization, so they say.
But how about over the last 10,000, 12,000, 14,000 years? We have really direct evidence, we have written evidence about what people ate. And if you’re a person of history, you know what people ate. Throughout human history, all large, successful populations of people, have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch. I’m sure lots of examples are popping in your mind. You’re thinking about the Aztecs and Mayans, the people of the corn. And if you go a little bit further South, and you look at the Incas. They lived on potatoes except when they went to battle, and then they’d switch to quinoa.